BERLIN — David Dushman, the last surviving soldier who took part in the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in 1945, has died at the age of 98.
Dushman, a Red Army soldier who later became an international fencer, died on Saturday, said the International Olympic Committee in a brief statement.
On January 27, 1945, he used his T-34 Soviet tank to mow down the electric fence of Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland, helping to set prisoners in the death camp free.
“We hardly knew anything about Auschwitz,” he said, recounting that day in an interview in 2015 with Sueddeutsche daily.
But he saw “skeletons everywhere.”
RIP David Dushman (1923 – 2021) – the last surviving liberator of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, who died yesterday aged 98.
When arriving with the Red Army at Auschwitz on 27 January 1945, he used his T-34 Soviet tank to mow down the electric fence to free the prisoners. pic.twitter.com/whpk9CFZBL
— Adam Schwarz (@AdamJSchwarz) June 6, 2021
“They staggered out of the barracks, sat and lay among the dead. Terrible. We threw them all our canned food and immediately went on to hunt down the fascists,” he said.
Only after the end of the war did he learn about the scale of the atrocities in the camp.
Of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, more than one million were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, most in its notorious gas chambers, along with tens of thousands of others, including homosexuals, Roma, and Soviet prisoners of war.
Dushman was one of 69 soldiers in his division who survived the war, but he suffered serious injuries.
Nevertheless, he went on to become a top fencer in the Soviet Union and, later, one of the world’s greatest fencing coaches, the IOC said.
David Dushman, le dernier libérateur d'Auschwitz, soldat de l'Armée rouge, est décédé à l'âge de 98 ans. pic.twitter.com/orFdcPUpMT
— Julien (@Teidix) June 6, 2021
IOC chief Thomas Bach voiced sadness about Dushman’s death.
“When we met in 1970, he immediately offered me friendship and counsel, despite Mr Dushman’s personal experience with World War II and Auschwitz, and he being a man of Jewish origin,” said Bach, who is German.
“This was such a deep human gesture that I will never ever forget it,” added the IOC president.
Dushman lived several years in the 1990s in Austria before later relocating to Munich, where German media said he died.
As recently as four years ago, he was still going almost daily to his fencing club there to give lessons, the IOC said.